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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

by on March 12, 2012

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes tells the story of a middle-aged man looking back on his life after being bequeathed a journal and 500 pounds by the mother of a woman he used to date decades ago. The narrator is Tony and he’s lived somewhat of a peaceable life. He married, had a kid, got divorced, and is still friends with his ex-wife. He hasn’t had a bad life but neither has he had a great one. The book is so short, only 150 pages, that any indication of the plot is almost like a mild spoiler.

I’m not really sure what the entire point of the book was. That said, it wasn’t a bad book and it was awarded the Man Booker prize in 2011 to prove it. There is some discussion as to the ambiguity of the ending but aside from the whole story, I think reading this book is cause for reflection on one’s own life, whether you’re a 20-something girl like me or in your 50s or 60s.

So, here’s this guy who’s got to be about 60 odd and he’s looking back at his past relationships as best as he can with the memories he’s retained up to this point in his life. He admits that time has fractured his memories but takes pleasure in the moments that come to light for him. He remembers his time in high school with his 3 best buddies, notably his friend Adrian who this story is also about. He recalls the girl, Veronica, who he dated for a time until he wasn’t and then afterwards when Veronica and Adrian started dating. That’s kind of the whole crux of the story right there.

Maybe this book is about Tony’s life and realizing that the”peaceable” life he always wanted and had isn’t that great when all is said and done. His life wasn’t fantastic and it wasn’t horrible, but he appears to be content with it. He has regular lunch dates with his ex-wife but neither wants or seeks a reconciliation. He sees his daughter and his grandchildren occasionally and is pretty content to live the rest of his life out this way. Whether we’re supposed to take note that “peaceable” isn’t so bad or to strive for greater things, it’s debatable.

Or, perhaps the story seeks to show how we view ourselves as self-important people who believe that every story must and does revolve around us. Tony thought it was all about him but as he was repeatedly told, he just “didn’t get it”. I’m still not quite sure what he didn’t get, but that’s hardly the point now.

When I’m Tony’s age, I want to “get it” and I want to have lived more than a peaceable life. I want to have more to show for myself than an ex-wife I’m on good terms with and a daughter who doesn’t trust me enough to let me take care of my own grandson. I don’t want to commit thoughtless actions today that I won’t even remember further down the road but regret immensely when it’s realized how much harm they might have caused.

I feel that there’s much more to this book than what I got out of it, but that in itself makes this an excellent read in that no matter who reads it I think we can all take something away from the experience, something that resonates with us personally; and any book that can accomplish that is one I’ll recommend.

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From → Books

2 Comments
  1. I’ve picked up this book countless times in a bookstore, but then I’d see the price (still high) and put it down again. I don’t pay too much for a book because if I did that I’d be broke right now. But once the paperback is out, I think I’ll order it. There is something that draws me to want to read it, that’s usually a good sign 😉

    • Yeah, I hear that the second time reading it is even better than the first. I’m not sure I’ll pick it up again but it’s definitely a great book.

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